January 23, 2012 journal, history of the term Apocalypse in some visions of earlier artists. Woodcut series: The Revelation of St John (Apocalypse) (1497-98) by Albrecht DÜRER "Apocalypse comes from Greek meaning an `unveiling'. The faith of the early Christians, living under persecution, was sustained by the expectation of Christ's imminent second coming. This found literary expression in the Revelation of John, written at the end of the first century A.D., an allegory foretelling the destruction of the wicked, the overthrow of Satan and the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth, the `New Jerusalem'. It followed the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic writing going back to Daniel in the 2nd century B.C., in which was foreseen the deliverance of Israel from her oppressors by a sudden act of the divine will, and from which the author of the Revelation borrowed much of his imagery. Popular belief, for which there is no historical evidence, identified the writer whose name was John with John the Evangelist, and he is so represented in apocalyptic themes. Though the author is alluding to the contemporary condition of Christians under the Roman empire, succeeding ages placed their own interpretation on the allegory. Thus the figure of the Beast, or Antichrist, which stands for the pagan emperor (either Nero or Domitian both of whom caused the blood of many martyrs to flow), came to symbolize Islam to crusading Christians; to Catholics at the time of the Reformation it stood for Protestant heresy, while Lutherans made it a symbol of the corrupt papacy. The sequence of fantastic images with their often obscure symbolism - the author's `visions' - forms a loose cycle of themes that are found in religious art from the time of the Carolingian renaissance. They are seen in illuminated manuscripts, in the sculpture, stained glass and frescoes of churches, and in engravings and tapestries. The greatest printmaking achievement of Dürer's early years was The Apocalypse, a set of 15 woodcuts on the revelations of St John. Telling the story of the end of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God, this series of large prints displays great imagination and power. The famous series influenced the later treatment of the subject in northern Europe, especially France. The Apocalypse was an immediate success. The terrifying, visions of the horrors of doomsday, and of the signs and portents preceding it, had never before been visualized with such force and power. There is little doubt that Dürer's imagination, and the interest of the public, fed on the general discontent with the institutions of the Church which was rife in Germany towards the end of the Middle Ages, and was finally to break out in Luther's Reformation. To Dürer and his public, the weird visions of the apocalyptic events had acquired something like topical interest, for there were many who expected these prophecies to come true within their lifetime. Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes): Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 (excerpts) http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/d/durer/2/12/2apocaly/index.html